It started off as any other game drive would; giraffes gracefully moving through the bush and nibbling the leaves of carefully selected trees; impalas dashing across the road and jumping high as if chased by demons; duiker trying to remain unnoticed in the undergrowth and tall grass under the trees.
Up to this point of the safari, everything went according to plan and everything we wanted to find on the previous drives was found, except for one remaining animal… Feeling extremely confident we set our sights on the most north-western dam on the property, since it was the location of a certain cheetah female that morning. What could be easier? Knowing where the animal was in the morning and a highly experienced tracker upfront sounded like a never-fail plan.
That was what we thought… Maybe it was too much confidence that made us forget or maybe it was pride. But we seemed to forget that we were trying to find an animal that moves during the day, in an area that is perfect for animals to disappear into, out of reach of any vehicles best attempts. After two hours of vigorous searching, we could not find a single track or sign to indicate that she ever was in that area so we decided to try something else.
The third fact we forgot about in our premature confidence was that in the very same area, a male lion has been reported moving around. We then chose to follow up on that cat since we were in the area already. Tracks were found without any problems. But the fun and games soon came to an end when these tracks moved into an area that most of the best designed off-road vehicles would dream about traversing.
Very quickly confidence turned to worry and pride turned to desperate attempts. But nothing could be found. We decided to make our way back to the lodge and suffer defeat, but on the way there a call came through on the radio.
Female leopard spotted moving in the bush close to a road on our way back. We made our way to that location as seconds seemed to feel like minutes and a previously acceptable game drive speed felt like a snail moving uphill. Halfway there, mouth watering and heart pounding we counted off the seconds. “Visual lost, trying to relocate in thick bush” were the next words on the radio. Those are the last words you want to hear when following the ‘Ghost of the bush’. It sends shivers down your spine and makes you feel like this is one of those drives where nothing will go right. But still we push on and go to the area.
“Jacques, come in slowly. She is here next to me.” Words said by a ranger that is no more that 30 metres away from me. There she was! In all her grace! We made it!
Moving slowly towards us and then turning into the bush at a slow enough pace to easily follow her while dodging trees was the first leopard this ranger and tracker has seen for a long time. The last one was found. The one that has been eluding us throughout this whole safari. Even though we did not find it, it was still an absolute pleasure to watch the most beautiful cat walk on the soil of the most beautiful continent in the world. Lesson was learned, and pride will never take over and blind us again.
Jacques Beukes – Kapama River Lodge